October 17, 2014

When Self-Exaltation is Love

by Mike Riccardi

Edwards PortraitJonathan Edwards’ life, thought, and theology was dominated by the glory of God. Edwards argued extensively that God is chiefly concerned with His glory—manifesting the beauty of His perfections—and therefore all His creatures should be concerned with His glory as well. This commitment would shape Edwards’ entire theology, even as it related to theodicy and theology proper, the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the Christian’s pursuit of holiness, and the centrality of the affections in the Christian life. Indeed, it is no overstatement to say, along with one church historian, “No theologian in the history of Christianity held a higher or stronger view of God’s majesty, sovereignty, glory and power than Jonathan Edwards.”[1]

During his years ministering to the Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Edwards wrote his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, where he masterfully develops the truth that God’s chief end in creating the world was to bring glory to Himself. He wrote:

All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. … The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.[2]

Edwards argued that if God did not aim at His own glory in creation, He would be unrighteous. He must regard Himself above all things because only a Being as perfect and lovely as He is worthy of such regard. In other words, for God to be holy, He must value what is supremely valuable; and He is supremely valuable.[3] To do anything else would be for God to commit idolatry.

After tracing the Hebrew and Greek words for glory throughout the Scriptures, as well as employing typical Edwardsian air-tight reasoning, Edwards extends that God’s ultimate aim in creating the world is not—indeed cannot be—different from His ultimate aim in all of His acts in the world. J. I. Packer precisely summarizes Edwards’ conclusion:

“God’s internal and intrinsic glory consists of his knowledge (omniscience with wisdom) plus holiness (spontaneous virtuous love, linked with hatred of sin) plus his joy (supreme endless happiness); and that his glory (wise, holy, happy love) flows out from him, like water from a fountain, in loving spontaneity (grace), first in creation and then in redemption, both of which are so set forth to us so as to prompt praise; and that in our responsive, Spirit-led glorifying of God, God glorifies and satisfies himself, achieving that which was his purpose from the start.”[4]

The question that is raised, then, is if God’s chief regard is always to Himself, how can it be said that He is loving, or benevolent, towards human beings? Does not this doctrine of God’s own God-centeredness make Him a self-centered narcissist? The answer, of course, is an emphatic, “No!” because God has created us such that our fullest satisfaction comes from perceiving His glory.

Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself, and complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence. Thus it is easy to conceive, how God should seek the good of the creature, consisting in the creature’s knowledge and holiness, and even his happiness, from a supreme regard to himself; as his happiness arises from that which is an image and participation of God’s own beauty. … [Thus] God’s respect to the creature’s good, and his respect to himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with himself.[5]

Packer summarizes that thought as follows:

“God made us that in praising, thanking, loving, and serving Him, we find our own supreme happiness and enjoyment of God in a way that otherwise we would not and could not do. We reach our highest enjoyment of God in and by glorifying Him, and we glorify Him supremely in and by enjoying Him. In fact, we enjoy Him most when we glorify Him most, and vice versa. And God’s single-yet-complex end, now in redemption as it was in creation, is His own happiness and joy in and through ours.”[6]

Edwards himself succinctly put it, “The enjoyment of Him is our highest happiness, and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.”[7] In other words, God’s glory and our happiness (or our good) are not different things. Our greatest happiness is to see God’s glory manifested and expressed for us to enjoy, because the beauty of that vision is that in which we were created to find our greatest satisfaction.

And so God’s self-exaltation is not narcissism, but love. As Piper has said, “God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act,” because, “unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself.”

May we behold the beauty of this God who has revealed Himself for our everlasting joy.

______________________________________

[1] Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 506.

[2] “A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 1:119-120.

[3] Ibid., 1:98.

[4] Packer, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 92.

[5] Edwards, “The End for Which God Created the World,” in Works, 1:120.

[6] Packer, “The Glory of God,” 92.

[7] As quoted in Donald Whitney, “Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 126.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Jas25

    “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.” – Victoria Osteen

    “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for ourselves—I mean, that’s one way to look at it—we’re doing it for God, because we take pleasure when God is glorified.”-Jonathan Edwards (paraphrased)

    Just couldn’t help noticing how both recognize the same correlation between our happiness and God’s glorification but how their focus is completely reversed.

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